Foreign Minister considers symbolic compensation to Czech Germans who opposed fascism


Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda is to visit Germany this Thursday. Before leaving he said that he would support the idea of the Czech government breaking a long-held taboo and making a "humanitarian gesture" towards the German minority living in the Czech Republic. This would take the form of symbolic financial compensation to a small number of Czech Germans, who actively resisted Nazism, during the Second World War. After the war, the great majority of Czechoslovakia's three million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled, and in the atmosphere of the 1950s those who remained often had a very difficult time. Martin Mikule talked to Jaroslav Sonka from the European Academy in Berlin, an expert on Czech-German relations and asked him who he felt should actually be eligible for this compensation and what its main purpose should be.

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, photo: CTK
"I think that this compensation should treat the group of people who lost their citizenship after the war. Then the former Czechoslovakia decided that they can not be expelled because of their position in the industry or in the economy of the Sudeten-German strip of Bohemia and Moravia. So those people did not have citizenship for several years and they were treated like foreigners. They lost their possessions, partly they were treated very badly by the police. Later they obtained their citizenship back. So now the state has to decide to treat them like citizens who were continuously citizens of Czechoslovakia and later on of the Czech Republic."

What kind of people were those ethnic Germans who weren't expelled? Did they all fight against Nazism?

"Well, partly they were anti-Nazi people too; partly the decision was taken according the already mentioned economical needs of the country, so it's a very mixed group. What should be decisive should be their treatment during that time. Partly they were children, for example, who could not be sent to school, there were people injured by the police and by the so called 'Red Guards' in the first months after the war.... It was rather several problematic groups with which we have to solve the problem rather on the field of history, and of reflection of that history."

The Czech public is not really well disposed towards compensating the ethnic Germans, so most of the politicians rather keep their hands off this issue. Why is this question so sensitive even today?

"I think that the Czech political scene simply lost connection with reality in that topic. Usually the political elite have to prepare the public for such a change of opinion. I think we need a new discussion about that topic and we need a change in the opinion of the political elite. Somebody has to be found who is strong enough to go through that case, and I think that during the next generation, let's say within several years, such a person will have a political success for being the first who tries to do something."

Do you believe that now it's the time, and now the 'humanitarian gesture' will be carried out soon?

"I think that the time was given already by the change from Communism to free society and now we are a little bit delayed, more or less."